We talk a lot of jazz concerts and festivals and happenings and whatever, but, when you get down to it, that’s not what we think jazz is really all about. What it’s about — what it’s always been about — is a drummer and a bass player, a pianist usually, and then a horn player or two in some badly lit bar, playing three or four sets. The tunes might be standards, sometimes even hackneyed, but that’s not the point. The point is the improv. Hours of it. Every tune, every set, every night, every player getting beyond the tune’s melody and dropping into their own thing. A sax player takes off into solo flights crazy or beautiful or both, the other players keeping things grounded until he gets back to the head of the tune, that melody you can hum to, and there he turns it over to another horn player or the pianist or whoever it is that gets the nod to take their turn. That’s what it’s all about.

Not everyone likes this. You can see them, the poor folks dragged into some dark jazz club full of intensely focused people, and not getting it at all. Bored to tears. It’s an acquired taste. But once you get it, you’re like a foodie turned on by Jonathan Gold to some exotic cuisine, and you seek it out everywhere; you think about it at breakfast, at work, in the car. You’re hooked, sucker. Jazz got you.

Now go and get some.

Saxist Bob Sheppard can be a thrilling soloist, and good luck trying to figure out where he’s taking that tune. He’ll bring it back again, but, oh, the places it’s been. He’s doing a stripped-down trio thing at the Blue Whale on Friday. Saxist Roger Neumann has been on the scene for ages, doing a lot of big-band work, and his quartet is at the Lighthouse on Saturday from 11 a.m. through the afternoon. Saxist Rickey Woodard has played with everyone, including a long stint with Ray Charles, and there’s a lot of soulful blues in the man’s hard bop. Always good, he’s with the John Heard Trio on Saturday at Charlie O’s. Tenor Rob Lockhart is one of our favorites in town; he plays beautiful stuff and is always right on the money when a ripping solo is called for. But his leader gigs are rare, so his fronting a quartet at Vibrato on

Saturday is a top pick.

At the Blue Whale on Saturday, pianist Richard Sears has an excellent trio. Also on the bill is Indo–post bop guitarist Alex Pinto’s quartet playing material off his new Inner State. And inspired saxist Robby Marshall’s Rootsystem (10 great players, including violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson) does his wildly inventive material at the Blue Whale every Wednesday in April. A freaky string quartet opens, there are artists, and who knows what else. Downtown madness, and highly recommended.

Hey, rich people, let’s see those wallets: Vitello’s is hosting the all-day Jazz Relief for Japan fundraiser on Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Billed are the Yellowjackets, Alan Pasqua/Darek Oles/Peter Erskine/Bob Mintzer, Wayne Bergerson Big Band, Denise Donatelli, Vitello’s All-Stars (Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Tom Warrington and Joe La Barbera). Plus a mess more. Tickets are $25-$100. The music looks terrific and swinging and intimate and a jillion other adjectives. If you dig that sort of thing.

Tenor (and a little baritone) saxist Plas Johnson does his beautiful thing (and the inevitable Pink Panther theme) on Saturday night at Giannelli Square (19451 Londelius St., Northridge; 818-772-1722). Your $25 includes refreshments, extraordinary acoustics and seats so comfortable you could plotz. And Foundry house drummer Zac Harmon tells us that pianist Nikos Syropolous (yet another of those USC jazz kids) is amazing, and he don’t toss out compliments easily. They’re both at the Foundry on Saturday. And the strange bunch known as Sigmund Fudge (guitarist Jamie Rosenn, keyboardist Joe Bagg, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and drummer Jason Harnell) do their inexplicable thing at the Baked Potato on Sunday. Groovy name, groovier sounds.

The club’s website calls them straight-ahead jazz. Nope.

The slick, swinging and showbiz Gordon Goodwin Big Plat Band are celebrating their zillionth CD, That’s How We Roll (on Concord), at Catalina’s on Tuesday. It’ll be a good show; they can’t help themselves but play good shows. Charlie O’s has the fine hard bop of the CJS Quintet Wednesday, while highly regarded pianist Mike Lang is at Catalina’s the same night. He’s joined by drummer Jim Keltner — yes, classic rock fans, that Jim Keltner — who rarely gets to show off his jazz chops. He’s a busy man. And another superstar of sorts, former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, leads his own trio at Vibrato on Thursday, and will scare you senseless, because he plays better than you will ever do anything in your entire life.

(Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.)

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